Carving Out Some Alone Time for Life Together

Jack Adams made this helpful distinction: “If it's free, it's advice; if you pay for it, it's counseling; if you can use either one, it's a miracle.” Today, we want to talk about the miracle of free advice, so let’s start with a quiz. Which of the following is good advice and which is worthless twaddle? If it is good advice, say, “amen,” after reading the statement. Here we go. . . . “Never insult the alligator until after you have crossed the river.” “Never do anything you wouldn’t want to explain to a paramedic.” “If you find a toilet in your dream, don’t use it.” “If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the juggler.” We are looking at chapter 3 in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship. It is odd for a book on Christian community to devote a whole chapter to being

Worship for Life Together

It’s February. Even though our winter has been incredibly nice by any standard you may suggest (except skiing), all of us are ready to move on to spring. And that is why Groundhog’s Day is such a big deal. We all want Punxsutawney Phil to come out of his burrow, fail to see his shadow and announce that spring will be early this year. That is, unless you live in Canada. If you live in Canada, you don’t care what some Pennsylvanian rat in a hat thinks. You’ll get your weather prognostication from Wiarton Willy, thank you very much! But that’s also true about many other locations because there are at least NINE groundhogs in the weather-predicting business. We already know of Phil in Pennsylvania and Willie in Ontario, but there is also Staten Island Chuck, Dunkirk Dave (New York) Jimmy the Groundhog (Wisconsin), General Beauregard Lee (Georgia), Buckeye Chuck

Scripture for Life Together

There is nothing like a good quiz, especially when the subtitle reads: 98% of Christians Can’t Pass this Bible Quiz. I have taken at least a dozen of these quizzes, but with mixed results. I’m really good at questions like, “How many fish did the disciples catch in John 21?” or “In what town did Jesus encounter Zacchaeus?” In fact, on one quiz, I managed a 45 out of 45 and received a “Nice Try” for my efforts (Isn’t “nice try” what you say when you only get 20 out of 45?). But then, there are these other questions in these Bible quizzes that leave me scratching my head. For instance, one Christian quiz asked, “What was the name of the carrot on Veggie Tales?” (Can carrots even be Christians?). Or, “In which Texas university is the biggest Bible in the world housed?” (I didn’t even know Texans read the

Praying for Life Together

Confession is good for the soul. Lots of people I greatly admire, greatly admire Bonhoeffer. You can tell because they have read him extensively. That’s not me. In fact, until I was reading them extensively, I was not really interested in Bonhoeffer or his books. To be perfectly open and honest, this is the very first time I have ever read Life Together. But here is the strange part. I have had a copy of the book in my library for years, but how it got there is a mystery; a mystery I am hoping to solve to my satisfaction in a few seconds. Let’s start with the facts. I have a hardback copy of Life Together that was published in 1954 (originally published in 1939 in German, 1954 was the first English translation). On the flyleaf, there is a stranger’s name stamped (I could be misreading it, but it

Seven Sins to Poison Community, Part 2

Last week, I argued that one of the great visionaries of the past was the guy who invented pizza (who would disagree with that?). But who was this creative genius? The answer depends a lot on how we define “pizza.” If pizza is simply flatbread cooked in an oven, then the answer is an ancient someone in the Middle East. Everyone (the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Israelites and others) all cooked flatbread in mud ovens. Now, if you think you need something ON that flatbread for it to be called a pizza, then we have a different answer. The ancient Greeks and Romans both topped their flatbread with herbs, spices and olive oil. Now, I would argue that is better defined as focaccia bread, not pizza, but it is a topping on baked bread, so props to them. Plus, a pizza, to be a pizza, doesn’t need a tomato-sauce topping

Seven Sins to Poison Community, Part 1

Who were the great visionaries of the past? I would suggest the following people need to be on that list.  The incredible saint who said “Let’s mash up these beans, run hot water through them and drink it. We will call it ‘coffee.’” Whoever that guy was, he was brilliant!  The genius who looked at some plain, baked flatbread and “saw” pizza and said, “I’m going to make happiness pie.” Words cannot express my gratitude. The deeply holy man who looked at a cacao pod and said, “Let’s make some chocolate!” I love that guy! The person who said, “Dag, I left the cream outside overnight, and it froze. My boxes of cake icing also froze. But what if I added them together? Think about it! Chocolate and frozen cream! Butter Pecan frozen cream! Cookie dough ice cream! You scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Whoever that person was,

Five Movies and Five Foundations

Quick, name your top five favorite scary movies. Okay, let’s have some honesty. First, horror is not a favorite genre of mine; so if you are a true fan, my list will seem wimpy. More importantly, though, scary movies depend so much on “the when” that it is hard to compose a list. When I was a kid, I would certainly include the classics: The Wolf Man (1941; Rolling Stone rates it at #85 on their all-time list), The Mummy (1932; #60), The Blob (Steve McQueen, 1958; #96), Frankenstein (1931; #28) and Dracula (1931; #20). All of those scared me to death. But I also remember being terrified by the monster bird in the movie, The Giant Claw, which has to qualify for the silliest special effects ever.  Today, if I were to make a list, I could include a dozen different movies, but as long as number one was

A New Year’s Resolution

It is a new year, and one of my new year’s resolutions is not to look down on new year’s resolutions. Why? Because a new resolution can make a profound impact. Need proof? Here are ten spectacular things that all took place on New Year’s Day; and all, I would argue, came as a result of someone resolving to make them happen. Consider these impressive January 1 events: New Year’s Day, 1502 – The Portuguese establish a new settlement by naming it Rio de Janeiro (which, when translated, means, “January River”). New Year’s Day, 1773 – John Newton introduced a new hymn based on 1 Chronicles 17 to his church in Olney, England. As it was passed on to other churches, its name was changed to the one we know: namely, “Amazing Grace.” New Year’s Day, 1818 – Mary Shelley first published her terrifying novel, Frankenstein. Who would have guessed that

What Is This Christmas-Week of Which You Speak?

First things first; we are not late. Yes, I know that, traditionally, the seventh antiphon is prayed on December 23 and that you are not reading this until the 29th (at the earliest), but does that delay hold any real significance? Absolutely not. Yes, the first antiphon, O Wisdom, is meant to be prayed on December 17; and then, each day leading up to Christmas, we are to add another antiphon until we reach Christmas Eve where we pray the last antiphon, O Emmanuel. But tradition is not law. In fact, praying this last antiphon during the week of Christmas makes good sense to me and for three really good reasons. First, the rush leading up to Christmas leaves little time for true contemplation. But then, Christmas is over and we have a short lull before we start to ramp up for New Year’s, a lull that allows us some

Two Antiphons; No Bah-Humbug

Bah-humbug! Of all the words associated with Christmas, “bah-humbug” is hands-down my favorite, not because I like the sentiment, but because the word is just plain fun. It even has an interesting history. “Bah” first came on the scene in the year 1600 (as did the words: barky, batty, and beachy). It was used, as it is used today, to express disdain or contempt. “Hum,” in Old English, meant “to deceive.” Now, we could have guessed that. What do you do when you don’t know the words? You pretend you know them by humming. That’s right, humming, besides being extremely annoying, is a form of deception. And the word “bug” seems to be related to the same word from which we get the term “bogeyman.” Put it together and “bah-humbug” referred to some sort of contemptuous fake bogeyman or some unfavorable commotion that was pure hooey, hokum, humbuggery. But that’s

The Antiphon with a Mustache

It’s not a great movie. It’s not even in my top fifty, but if it is on TV, I’m probably going to watch it.  Here’s my favorite scene. There is this middle-aged Frenchman sitting at the dinner table eating soup with his elderly mother. They are listening to scratchy radio that is spouting off all sorts of strange messages. He is only half-listening because the messages all sound ridiculous. “Molasses tomorrow will bring forth cognac,” and “There is a fire at the travel agency,” and “Daphne and Monique are taking a trip.” It is pretty boring stuff, but then our friend hears the message, “John has a long mustache.” He immediately jumps up, drops his spoon in his soup, and begins to repeat the message over and over again excitedly. And each time he says it, his enthusiasm for the line grows dramatically. His mother has no idea what is

O to Pray Like This

If you are at Camden Yards, you don’t sing it the way he wrote it. You have a tradition to uphold.  While he wrote, “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,” you sing, “O!!!!!!!!!!!!!! say. . . .”  And that is a tradition that is well worth upholding and enjoying. But Baltimore is not alone. When the Predator’s goalie, Juuse Saros, is in net for a home game, Nashville fans hijack the anthem and shout “Juuse” instead of “O say can you see. . . .” The Washington Capitals stress the word “red,” when they sing the line “and the rocket’s red glare” since their uniforms are red. They also emphasize the “O,” stealing the Camden Yards experience in a sacrilegious attempt to honor Alex Ovechkin; but I never bought into the “better red than dead” propaganda. Winnipeg Jets fans honor their ownership group (True North Sports and Entertainment)

An Anti-Prayer for Wisdom

Beware of the root fallacy, my son! The root that bites; the core that catches. For instance, consider the root “anti.” It means to be “opposed to” or “against.” And if you read that meaning into the word “antiphon” (since it most clearly contains the word “anti”), then you are going to hear this song being sung throughout this entire series. Take it away, Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff: I don't know what they have to say; It makes no difference anyway; Whatever it is, I'm against it. No matter what it is or who commenced it. . . . I'm against it.  Your proposition may be good; But let's have one thing understood: Whatever it is, I'm against it. And even when you've changed it or condensed it. . . . I'm against it. Ah, but beware of the root fallacy, for the “anti” in antiphon has nothing to do

A Bonhoeffer Thanksgiving 2023

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for and to rejoice in all of God’s good gifts to us.  And for me, whenever I think of God’s gifts, I pause to give thanks for all of my teachers, both those who stood physically in front of me and for all those who wrote great books that shaped me in ways I can’t begin to enumerate. And so today, I thought it would be good for us to read a section from one of my book-writing teachers. The following two paragraphs are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book, Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship.   Since Thanksgiving is upon us, and since the main theses of these paragraphs is thanksgiving, I invite you to feast on what Bonhoeffer says here. He writes:  “Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship and because God has bound us together in one

The Twisted Parable

You are probably wondering what a parable is. That’s easy. “Parables are imaginary gardens with real toads in them” (M. Moore). In other words, parables are harmless little stories until they grab hold of you and rip your head off. To say it much more nicely, a parable is more than a narrative with some homespun wisdom. Instead, it is a weapon of mass disruption designed to make the hearers think or, maybe more accurately, make them rethink everything they believe. In short, parables intend to distract an audience so that when the audience isn’t looking, it can hit them with the truth in a way they didn’t see coming! See, parables are not simple stories. They are stories with teeth. But to do that, parables employ the “unexpected twist”—a twist in the story that no one saw coming, a twist in the story that was shocking, a twist in

A Flood of a Story

By now, you know the scoop. We often use scripts at the youth group (aka, the Edge). They are discussion starters, not finishers. They are created to make people think, not to give them answers.  And they are meant to help people see some of the stories in the Bible with new eyes or maybe even to feel the story for the first time. This script, I believe, does all those things. But you need to know a few things before you read it. First, you’re going to have to sing. Now, the songs should be familiar (except, perhaps, in one case), but unfortunately the words have all been changed. Sorry. The four songs are (in the order they appear in the script), “Sing to the Power of the Lord Comes Down,” (if you don’t know it, do me a favor and just pretend like you do), “God Bless America;”

Voting in the Garden

Feel free to skip this paragraph (it’s the same one from before; same old, same old for you, but for a first-time-blog-reader, it is probably helpful; plus, I get paid by the word). Every once in a while, to kick off a discussion at our youth group (aka, the Edge), we have a script. They are not necessarily designed to give answers. Instead, they are meant to make people think or to think differently about things. We want people to look at things differently, to see things in a different light and to feel the story (and not just “think the story”—or worse, “I already know the story”). Yes, it is also entertaining (at least, I hope it is entertaining); and yes, it is a conversation starter and not the end of a conversation. So, here’s the deal: I’m happy to share these scripts, but you will have to provide

A Whole Lot of Turning

You’ve read this paragraph already—feel free to skip it if you have: Every once in a while, to kick off a discussion at our youth group (aka, the Edge), we have a script. They are not necessarily designed to give answers. Instead, they are meant to make people think or to think differently about things. We want people to look at things differently, to see things in a different light and to feel the story (and not just “think the story”—or worse, “I already know the story!”). Yes, it is also entertaining (at least, I hope it is entertaining); and yes, it is a conversation starter and not the end of a conversation. So, here’s the deal: I’m happy to share these scripts, but you will have to provide your own voices.    Relationships are important. The New Testament makes that explicit. We are called to love one another (Jn.

A Six-Letter Church

You’ve read this paragraph already: Every once in a while, to kick off a discussion at our youth group (aka, the Edge), we have a script.  They are not necessarily designed to give answers. Instead, they are meant to make people think or to think differently about things. We want people to look at things differently, to see things in a different light and to feel the story (and not just “think the story”—or worse, “I already know the story!”). Yes, it is also entertaining (at least, I hope it is entertaining); and yes, it is a conversation starter and not the end of a conversation. So, here’s the deal: I’m happy to share these scripts, but you will have to provide your own voices.   Lots of people struggle with church.  They just don’t like it.  But maybe what they don’t like is bad church. And maybe what they need

Reading the Bible Edgewise

This script takes place at the Edge [youth group] on a typical Friday night. It’s a conversation between six friends about reading the Bible. Today, there are two big questions: “First, why do you read the Bible?” And then, “How do you go about reading it?” In other words, when we are reading the Bible, what should we be looking for? Enjoy.   Reader 1: I’m telling you, we got sidetracked a few weeks ago and never dealt with the question! Reader 2: What question?   Reader 1: Why did God give us the Bible?  Reader 3: Are you kidding me? That question? We’ve talked about that question a thousand times! Yeah, yeah, yeah -- wisdom, sin, redemption, God’s story of his people. I tell you, I’m tired of this question. In fact, I want a new question, something like, “Is there ever such a thing as a just war?” Or

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